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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 810

Chance tends the garden in the house of the Old Man, where he has lived for as long as he can remember. His mother died in childbirth and his father was unknown, and, although there is no record of any arrangement, the Old Man took him in. Chance never had any real contact with the Old Man, however, especially during his later years, when he was bedridden. Chance is cared for by the maid of the house, but he needs very little: whatever time he does not spend in the garden he spends in front of the television, which is his major source of information about the world. He is illiterate, but gains whatever education and manners and knowledge of social behavior he has from the programs he watches on television.

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When the Old Man suddenly dies, Chance is turned out of the house by Thomas Franklin, the lawyer in charge of the estate, who can find no record of Chance’s existence. Bewildered by being in the outside world for the first time, he walks aimlessly in the street and is unable to avoid being hit by the limousine of Elizabeth Eve Rand when it backs toward him. Chance is not seriously hurt, but Elizabeth and her chauffeur are concerned and take him to the Rands’ house to have him checked out thoroughly. She introduces herself as EE, and as he fumblingly explains that he is Chance, the gardener, she mishears this as Chauncey Gardiner, the name by which he is referred to from that point on.

Chance settles in to his new home very quickly, as both EE and Mr. Rand become very attached to him. EE finds him charming because, although he is simple and utterly without experience or intelligence, he perfectly mimes the behavior of characters he has seen on television. Mr. Rand, the shrewd and powerful chairman of the board of the First American Financial Corporation, is equally charmed by Chance and also impressed by what he takes to be his deep insights into the contemporary economic crisis. Rand interprets his trite mundane and literal comments about plants, flowers, trees, and roots as penetrating wisdom that supports his own conservative thoughts about the need for patience, strong and steady leadership, and support for the established business and political authorities who are a bulwark against those arguing for change.

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Latest answer posted September 12, 2011, 7:15 am (UTC)

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It never crosses Chance’s mind that he is anything but a simple gardener, but everyone around him quickly adopts him as a charismatic adviser. The president of the United States visits Rand, and he too is impressed by Chance’s apparent optimistic philosophy of soil and seasons, so much so that he mentions Chance’s name in a major speech he delivers later that night. More than an adviser to business leaders and the president, Chance quickly becomes a celebrity. He is referred to and quoted in newspapers and magazines and asked to appear on a popular television show. He is perfectly suited for the latter, having been almost completely raised by watching television, and he immediately becomes quite literally the talk of the town.

By this time, EE is fully in love with Chance and attempts to seduce him. Chance has had no real experience of love but, although the garden offers him no help in this case, television once again does. It has acquainted him with some romantic gestures that he can imitate. Ironically, it has also rendered him completely devoid of emotion, which EE takes as admirable restraint and respect. Later, when EE approaches him again, more fully committed to making love to him, Chance responds with what he has learned from years of television. “I like to watch,” he says, which leads to mutual satisfaction: She is free to satisfy herself physically, and he is free to watch—not her, but the television that is almost always on wherever he is.

As Chance becomes increasingly famous, people in power, including not only the president but also the Russian ambassador, want to learn about his past, but no one can find out anything: Neither the American nor the Russian secret services can discover any trace of the man they know they will have to acknowledge as a major force. The fact that Chance is a blank slate, that he has no background, no identity, and no history of a lived life, turns out to be an asset: It means that he has no demonstrable blemishes and that he can be what people want him to be. As the story concludes, Chance is being seriously considered for high political office, and this vision of him as the ideal candidate, indeed, the ideal office-holder, is slyly juxtaposed with a final view of Chance walking out alone from a dinner party, completely thoughtless and yet completely at peace, into a garden that is beautiful but insensate.

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